Four men who have been called by the Lord to follow in his footsteps will be ordained to the priesthood by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., during a 10 a.m. Mass on June 3 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.
The priest candidates – Deacon Roy Aris B. Ballacillo, Deacon Thomas John Barry Jr., Deacon Michael A. Gentile Jr. and Deacon Kennedy – each has his own story of discernment and formation:
Father Roy Aris B. Ballacillo
For Father Roy Aris B. Ballacillo, the steps toward a priestly vocation came gradually, beginning when he was a young boy.
“It’s a long story!” he quipped. “I was young when I first started, so my decision did not come like a ‘magic moment,’ that all of a sudden I decided to become a priest.”
Instead, Father Ballacillo believes his June 3 ordination completes a lifelong process of discovery – a process that began with entering a high school seminary at age 12.
“It’s a result of years of reflecting and discerning. I entered the seminary with this childhood admiration of priests,” he explained. “As I went through the various stages of seminary formation, I began to see God’s amazing presence in my life.”
Father Ballacillo, 31, was to Marilyn and Fernando Ballacillo. One of four children, he grew up in the province of Abra, in the northwest Philippines. He attended Holy Cross School in Lagangilang, Abra, and St. Joseph Seminary High School, Bangued, Abra. He then went on to Christ the King Seminary in Manila, earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy.
He then spent a year as a postulant, and the following year as a novitiate.
Following a break of two years working for the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources, he followed the example of two former schoolmates who had pursued priestly ministry for the Diocese of Trenton – Father Mark Nillo and Father Carlo Calisin. Ballacillo applied to the Diocese, and was enrolled in St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Baltimore, where he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in sacred theology and a master of divinity degree. All these periods of discernment, Father Ballacillo maintains, have been part of a greater discovery.
“If you knew how to put together all your experiences, you’ll find out [they] are not simply random events that happen for no reason, but ways in which God wants you to do something,” he said. “In short, I learned how to reflect on my experiences, connect them if possible and then try to discern why and what God wants me to do.”
Ultimately, the years have helped deepen his connection to the divine, further cementing his goals.
“I was able to develop a grace-filled and life-long relationship with God,” Father Ballacillo said. “And it is this desire to bring people to such a personal awareness, discernment and encounter with God that inspired and motivated me to become a priest.”
Father Ballacillo has served several summers in various parishes of the Diocese during his seminary formation. He assisted in Holy Eucharist Parish, Tabernacle, in 2013 and St. Catharine Parish, Holmdel, in 2014. He also worked with the Mount Carmel Guild, Trenton, from January to July 2015, and was assigned as a deacon for his transitional year in St. James Parish, Red Bank, in 2016.
For his vesting priest, Father Ballacillo chose Msgr. Gregory Vaughan, pastor in St. Catharine Parish and former director of the diocesan Office of Vocations.
“I think everybody just loves Msgr. Vaughan,” he said emphatically. “He has been very supportive and very generous with his time. He has been a wonderful mentor, guide and an excellent spiritual director. A man very dedicated to the Catholic Church, to the Diocese and to the people. I’m so thankful for Msgr. Vaughan for showing me what it means to be a good and holy priest.”
Father Ballacillo’s first opportunities to celebrate Mass as a priest – also known as a Mass of Thanksgiving – will be in parishes that know him well: 5 p.m., June 3 in St. Catharine Church, Holmdel; and 9:30 a.m. June 4 in St. James Church, Red Bank. He has been assigned parochial vicar in St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford.
“I am looking forward to serving the Lord and his Church, and especially the people of the Diocese of Trenton,” Father Ballacillo said enthusiastically. “As a priest, one of my personal missions is to get out of the structure in order to meet people, especially those in need and unrecognized, and bring them to the Lord.”
With so much of his life already dedicated toward pursuit of a priestly life, this is not something Father Ballacillo takes lightly.
“I believe that the primary duty of the priestly ministry is to serve,” he said. “For me, among the most important aspects are the pastoral and the sacramental. The priest is meant to nourish and empower the people to live out the calling of their Baptism. As to the sacramental aspect, the life of a priest should take on a sacrificial character. A priest must conform his life to the paschal mystery of Christ or the Cross and make of his own life an offering to God on behalf of the people.”
~ By EmmaLee Italia | Correspondent
Father Thomas J. Barry Jr.
The paradox that is inherent to priestly ministry is not lost on Father Thomas J. Barry Jr. While there is always a focus on leadership and management, the former restaurant manager observes, you are, as a priest, most essentially a servant of God. You will lead, but you are still one of the sheep.”
His pursuit of this unique ministry began when the future Father Barry was born in Long Branch to Patricia Mills Barry and the now late Thomas J. Barry Sr. Father Barry has two siblings. He attended Lillian Drive and Union Avenue. Middle School, Raritan High School, both in Hazlet, before earning an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Brookdale Community College, Lincroft, and a bachelor of science degree in administration of justice from Rutgers College at Rutgers University, New Brunswick.
The seeds for a priestly vocation were planted as the 41-year-old Father Barry became more immersed in the life of his home parish, St. James, Red Bank. Over time, the daily Mass attendee served as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, a reader and as sixth-grade catechist, but it wasn’t until he began a job in the Eatontown Houlihan’s restaurant that his journey toward a priestly vocation was set in motion.
The young man’s schedule as a restaurant manager allowed him time to attend daily Mass in St. Mary Church, New Monmouth, where he met the pastor, Msgr. Michael J. Walsh. The two discussed the possibility of life as a priest, and Msgr. Walsh eventually accompanied him on his first visit to the vocations director in the diocesan Chancery. Msgr. Walsh, now pastor of three parishes in Mercer County, was selected as Father Barry’s vesting priest at ordination “because he is my mentor in the Diocese and a big part of my vocation story,” Father Barry said.
While attending Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University, South Orange, Father Barry earned master’s degrees in systematic theology and divinity. His summer assignments in the Diocese of Trenton included St. James Parish, Pennington, and St. Alphonsus Parish, Hopewell, in 2014; and St. Dominic Parish, Brick in 2015. He served his diaconal year in St. Joseph Parish, Toms River in 2016.
Outside the Diocese, Father Barry worked with St. Bridget Parish, Newark, shelter for men with HIV/AIDS; assisted the Little Sisters of the Poor, Totowa, as they cared for the elderly; served in St. Anthony of Padua, Belleville, and ministered in St. Joseph Hospital, Paterson.
Father Barry has been assigned as parochial vicar in St. Justin the Martyr Parish, Toms River. He said he most eagerly anticipates “presiding at Mass and the Eucharist, first and foremost,” then amends his answer.
“A close second, or even tied for first, is Confession,” he said. “It is the most underused of the Sacraments and one of the most powerful. I find great consolation in it. I wish for people to see the Sacrament is about love, not all about sin.”
Those lessons learned at Houlihan’s will stand him in good stead as a priest, Father Barry reflected. “I learned to manage time, manage change, manage costs, manage materials and manage a budget,” he enumerated. “The manager handles the people’s problems and helps them to help themselves, yet hold themselves accountable.”
For others contemplating life as a priest, Father Barry recommended, “Follow God’s will, and share your love of God.”
This spring, Seton Hall University selected Father Barry for one of its Servant Leadership Awards for service to the community. They cited his work with the Essex County Jail prison ministry, revitalization of the campus Knights of Columbus chapter, organization of clothing drives, beginning a prayer card ministry for the homeless and working in the St. John's soup kitchen, Newark. Reflecting upon the award, Father Barry summed up his many roles and volunteer opportunities in one word: love.
“It’s the way that we express love, and that’s what we’re here for… to be a servant is to love, and to lead others is to love,” he said. “Looking at the other person and caring for them… affirming them as a person” is important, Father Barry stressed, for “we’re not just giving them food, taking care of their temporal needs, but actually taking care of their spiritual needs.”
Father Barry will celebrate his first Mass as a newly ordained priest June 4 at noon in St. James Church, Red Bank.
~ By Christina Leslie | Correspondent
Father Michael A. Gentile Jr.
Father Michael A. Gentile Jr. is jubilant about beginning his next chapter in life as a priest, a vocation he’s aspired to from a young age.
“The priesthood isn’t about ‘this man or that man.’ It’s about Jesus Christ. We as priests do God’s work, and to me that is the best thing that can be done during this lifetime,” Father Gentile said. “God is always at work, and perhaps through my journey, others will be inspired to really figure out God’s will for them, too. I hope and pray that I am fortunate enough to have many years of priestly service here in the Diocese of Trenton.”
Born in Bronx, N.Y., one of eight children to Barbara and Michael Gentile Sr., Father Gentile, 41, served as an altar boy in his elementary school years, having close insight to a priest’s duties and responsibilities. As appealing as the work seemed to the young Michael, his journey into the priesthood wasn’t a direct path.
Growing up in Holy Rosary School and Mount Saint Michael Academy in the Bronx, he earned his bachelor’s degree in communications in New York’s Marist College in 1997 and moved to North Carolina, where he worked jobs in the airline industry. For him, this type of labor was “unfulfilling.”
Yearning for a “deeper” purpose in life, he joined a pre-seminary program in New York in 2001. However, he felt it was “not the right time.” Gentile eventually moved to New Jersey after a few years of chauffer driving for a job with Verizon Communications and joined St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville. Crediting that family of faith and its Knights of Columbus council, he eventually felt “God’s full embrace” and decided to re-enter the seminary, this time for the Diocese of Trenton, in 2011. He attended Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University, South Orange.
As a newly ordained priest, Father Gentile said he looks forward to applying what he learned in the seminary to his priesthood.
“I think we all, throughout life, look to do something that is meaningful, fulfilling,” he said. “I felt that there was more for me to do – more ways to use my gifts for the betterment of others.”
As Father Gentile prepares to serve in parish life, he realizes he will be met with challenges that will allow him to utilize the skills and experiences gained from his seminary formation over the years.
Father Gentile’s assignments include a summer each in St. Dominic Parish, Brick, in 2014, and St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square, in 2015, as well as in St. James Parish, Red Bank, as part of his seminary’s pastoral formation program. He returned to St. Dominic Parish to serve his transitional year as a deacon.
He said he feels confident and well-prepared for the future with the guidance of former pastors with whom he has served, such as Msgr. James Brady, pastor of St. Dominic Parish. Father Gentile chose Msgr. Brady as his vesting priest for his ordination.
“Msgr. Brady has helped me over the years to be myself and not be afraid to show my care to others,” Father Gentile said. “His sense of compassion for all people – trying to help them in life is something that I admire and wish to emulate.”
“There are so many different situations that will be a part of a priest’s life as he ministers to the community,” Father Gentile added. “I appreciate the times when I am able to just sit and hear of the way they handled different things that have come up for them … so that I may grow into a priest that is caring and available to the people in all walks of life.”
With the continuous support from his family, friends and members of the Knights of Columbus, to which he has belonged since 2011, Father Gentile is looking forward to making an immediate impact and connection to the community of St. Dominic Parish, where he has been assigned as parochial vicar.
The day following his ordination, Father Gentile will celebrate his first Mass in St. Dominic Church, amidst a parish community he described as “instrumental” to him during his seminary years.
“I have been assisting at Mass as deacon for the past year, proclaiming the Gospel and preaching on a regular basis, baptizing infants – all valuable experiences as I transition into being able to celebrate Mass and hear confessions and anoint those who are sick,” Father Gentile said. “My experience at the parish has surely been beneficial … I am thankful for my time there.”
~ By Thomas Wiedmann | Correspondent
Father Michael Kennedy
The days and weeks leading up to his priestly ordination were particularly charged with emotion for Father Michael Kennedy.
While he was joyfully anticipating his ordination to the priesthood June 3, he was also mourning the death of his mother, Anne Constance Kennedy, who died May 13.
“We miss my mom terribly,” the 47-year-old Father Kennedy said, speaking on behalf of his father, Peter, and five siblings. “We know she has been saved from her suffering, but we still miss her.”
In the midst of mourning, Father Kennedy kept in mind how grateful he is for the support he received from his family during his journey to the priesthood, nothing how his parents always demonstrated an “authentic faith.”
Father Kennedy, who was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Manasquan, recalled how his vocation “took years in the making.” He first contemplated a call to the priesthood as a student in Manasquan High School but did not pursue the call until later in life. As he describes it, he became “distracted and sidetracked.”
Following his graduation from high school, he attended the University of New Mexico, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English. Father Kennedy said that while in college, he had “largely fallen away from the faith,” but a small voice kept him from leaving the Church altogether.
Following his graduation and subsequent return to New Jersey, Father Kennedy experienced what he calls “a rough couple years” before he returned to attending Mass on a regular basis and began praying frequently. It was while attending Monmouth University, West Long Branch, where he pursued a master’s degree in English, that he began to think about the persistent call to the priesthood.
Father Kennedy then contacted Msgr. Gregory D. Vaughan, who was the diocesan director of vocations at the time. He entered St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Baltimore, in 2011, to begin studies for the priesthood. He earned a bachelor’s degree in theology and a master of divinity degree.
While in the seminary, Father Kennedy spent summer assignments in Holy Eucharist Parish, Tabernacle, in 2014, St. Rose Parish, Belmar, in 2015 and St. Aloysius Parish, Jackson, 2016, for his diaconal year.
Father Kennedy said he selected Holy Eucharist Parish as his home parish because it “was so welcoming to me; the community is so great. I couldn’t not select them as my home parish,” he said of the Burlington County faith community.
For his vesting priest at ordination, Father Kennedy selected his friend Father Daniel Price, who was ordained a priest last year and currently serves as parochial vicar in St. Joseph Parish, Keyport.
Father Kennedy will celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving St. June 4 at noon Catharine Church, Holmdel, where Msgr. Vaughan serves as pastor.
“It was because of Msgr. Vaughan that I entered the seminary and will be ordained a priest,” he explained.
Father Kennedy, who will begin his first assignment as parochial vicar in St. Katharine Drexel Parish, Burlington, July 1, said he is excited to begin ministering to people of God in his role as priest.
“I’ve gained the theological knowledge; now I am looking forward to learning the pastoral responsibilities,” he said. “I look forward to being taught by my parishioners and really learn from them.”
~ By Rose O’Connor | Correspondent